Thursday, March 17, 2005

Rebels -- a review by Gene Carroll and an exchange with Paul Buhle, from New Politics

"WHILE THE LABOR MOVEMENT in the United States is a beacon for democracy, too often it fails as a beacon of democracy. Herman Benson makes this clear in his remarkable personal memoir, Rebels, Reformers and Racketeers: How Insurgents Transformed the Labor Movement.

"In this account of a lifetime of support for the advancement of democracy inside the house of labor, you'll find the better-known characters and their stories of labor misdeeds, such as United Mine Workers President Tony Boyle and the coal miner he had murdered for challenging him, Jock Yablonski. But the compelling stories of lesser knowns who took on crooked unions, like Dow Wilson and Lloyd Green of the San Francisco Brotherhood of Painters -- both of whom were murdered for their courageous efforts -- are a treasure trove of historical narrative about union politics, human frailties, and true grit that form the largely untold dark drama of U.S. labor history of the last half century."

-- From the review by Gene Carroll, director of the Union Leadership Program at Cornell University's New York State School of Industrial & Labor Relations in New York City

"ANYTHING HERMAN BENSON WRITES on the labor movement is provocative and useful for discussion -- even if on occasion, in my view, it also happens to be somewhat skewed. When organized labor faces the prospect of a turning point as potentially large and also as disappointing as that of ten years ago, the implications loom before all of us.

"Benson's "The New Unity Partnership: Sweeney Critics Would Bureaucratize to Organize" (NP 37) reflects on the scant progress made since the passing of the Meany/ Kirkland/Shanker era of failure and disgrace. He correctly observes that organized labor has fewer members and not more, contrary to oft-repeated hopes and would-be rallying slogans. In June, UNITE and HERE carried through the merger of what is now to be the most vigorous and most progressive corner of American labor with the non-acronymic name, UNITE HERE. By Benson's reading, shared with many long-running reformers, size counts, but bigger (bargaining units, that is) may not be better and may very well be worse."

--From Paul Buhle's response to Herman Benson's "The New Unity Partnership: Sweeney Critics would bureaucratize to organize"

"IT IS DIFFICULT TO KNOW just what Paul Buhle is driving at; it's even more difficult to figure out what relevance his remarks have to what I wrote in New Politics about the undemocratic leanings of the New Unity Partnership. As best as I can make out, what he intends to say is this: Because the advocates of the New Unity Partnership seem to be fine people, and because they are zealous about organizing the unorganized, and because they may harbor views on American foreign policy akin to his own, they should be immune from criticism even though they seem convinced that union democracy is an impediment to organizing and even though they think it necessary to reorganize the labor movement in an authoritarian straightjacket to achieve their worthy ends. In any event, if he feels that my comments that follow here are off base, it is simply that I have trouble reading him in any other way."

--From Benson's reply to Buhle

See the full articles at

(posted by Matt Noyes)